Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

"You Have to Have Some Fun to Go along with Your Work": The Interplay of Race, Class, Gender, and Leisure in the Industrial New South

Academic journal article Journal of Leisure Research

"You Have to Have Some Fun to Go along with Your Work": The Interplay of Race, Class, Gender, and Leisure in the Industrial New South

Article excerpt


Textile and tobacco communities, symbols of the transformation of the Southern economy from a rural to an industrial basis, have proven rich subjects for the study of industrialization, trade unionism, and, perhaps most critically, the reinforcement of race, class, and gender hierarchies in the New South (Janiewski, 1985; Korstad, 1987; Peiss, 1986). While careful study of working-class experience has revealed that forces such as federal policy and economic transformation shaped working people's lives and communities, few leisure researchers or historians have considered the role that leisure has played in the creation of social identity (Cross, 1990; Fischer, 1994; Stokowski, 1990). In fact, the paucity of historical study focused on leisure could reflect the degree to which leisure scholars and historians have failed to look to each other to illuminate their work and intellectual contributions (Burton & Jackson, 1989). The purpose of this paper is to explore the leisure experiences of Southern women textile and tobacco workers from 1910 to 1940 as a way to analyze the meaning of recreation to working-class Southerners and the role of leisure in the development of communities of workers. By refocusing the historical lens toward a concept of social leisure, we hope to demonstrate the critical need for a leisure-based perspective on history as well as a historical perspective on leisure.


Following the Civil War, distinctions in southern culture and traditions began to emerge. These distinctions essentially separated the slave South (the "Old") from the Southern society that resulted from Reconstruction (the "New" South) (Ayers, 1992; Tindall, 1967; Woodward, 1951). Ayers (1992) described this time in the following way:

The era was crucial in the history of the region and of the nation, a time when Southerners of both races confronted the aftermath of emancipation and the reassertion of control by White Southerners. The Southern economy went through wrenching change; politics witnessed desperate conflict; Blacks and Whites redefined their relationships to one another; farmers launched the largest electoral revolt in American history. Other, more hopeful, things marked these years as well, for they saw the birth of the blues and jazz, the rapid spread of vibrant new denominations, an efflorescence of literature. (p. vii)

The New South faced a staggering economic crisis. Without slave labor upon which the area had relied for so long, how could the South re-establish its economy and compete with the industrial North? The South needed to transform the entire system of labor relations and at the same time, alter the race relations that existed with slavery. The post-Reconstruction years seemed ripe for dramatic change. The New South's economic salvation lay in textiles and tobacco. Somewhat ironically, these two industries largely reinforced rather than revolutionized the hierarchies of race, class, and gender inherent in the Old South.

Mills and factories sprang up across the South beginning in the 1870s and continued to multiply until the Great Depression. For example, many mill owners, like Alexander Chatham, owned large plantations prior to the war and amassed a huge fortune from the slave-based agricultural economy. Chatham purchased a small cotton mill on a bend in the Yadkin River in North Carolina in 1877 with a business partner, Thomas Lenoir Gwyn. Over the next fifty years, Chatham built that small concern into the Chatham Manufacturing Company which became a powerful force in the textile industry in both Winston-Salem and Elkin, North Carolina well into the twentieth century (Town of Elkin, 1989). Chatham's example indicates the transition from master of slaves to mill operator often proved an easy one.

Ambitious owners were aided by a widespread impulse to create Southern industrial success. Politicians, bankers, ministers, and other community leaders used their influence to pave the way for mill and factory men to open plants in their towns and invited them into partnerships for the new Southern dream of textile and tobacco capitalism. …

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